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MFC List Control with Tool-tip, Menu, Colors, and Sorting Ability

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6 Apr 2020MIT
List control with cells tooltips, menu ability, and even more
In this project, we will take a look at MFC list control for MFC applications. After seeing a list of the main features of the IListEx, we will learn about installation and creation, tooltips, menu and sorting. We will also learn about the public methods, structures and notification messages. Finally, we will see an example.

List Control for MFC Applications

Image 1

Table of Contents


IListEx class is basically an extension of the standard MFC CMFCListCtrl class with many improvements.

The Main Features of the IListEx

  • Set tooltips for individual cells that show up on mouse hover
  • Set popup menu for the individual cells as well as for the whole list control
  • Set background and text color for individual cells
  • Set additional item data for individual cells
  • Many options to set individual colors for lots of list aspects with LISTEXCOLORSTRUCT
  • Set header height and font, as well as color for individual header columns
  • Innate ability to sort list columns with no additional efforts
  • Dynamically change list font size with Ctrl+MouseWheel


The usage of the control is quite simple:

  1. Copy ListEx folder into your project's folder.
  2. Add all files from ListEx folder into your project.
  3. Add #include "ListEx/ListEx.h" where you are supposed to use the control.
  4. Declare IListExPtr variable: IListExPtr myList { CreateListEx() };

IListExPtr is, in fact, a pointer to the IListEx pure abstract base class, wrapped either in std::unique_ptr or std::shared_ptr. You can choose whatever is best for you by comment/uncomment one of this aliases in ListEx.h:

//using IListExPtr = IListExUnPtr;
using IListExPtr = IListExShPtr;

This wrapper is used mainly for convenience, so you don't have to bother about object lifetime, it will be destroyed automatically. That's why there is a call to the factory function CreateListEx(), to properly initialize a pointer.

Control uses its own namespace LISTEX. So it's up to you, whether to use namespace prefix before declarations:


or to define namespace in the source file's beginning:

using namespace LISTEX;



Create is the main method to create list control. It takes reference to the LISTEXCREATESTRUCT structure.

Below is a simple example of the control's creation:

IListExPtr myList { CreateListEx() };
lcs.pwndParent = this;
lcs.nID = ID_MY_LIST;
lcs.rect = CRect(0, 0, 500, 300);


With LISTEXCREATESTRUCT structure, you can adjust a plethora of list’s aspects:

  • Color of the list text and bk (background). Bk is set separately for odd and even rows
  • Color of the list header
  • Height of the list header
  • Font of the list header, and font of list itself
  • Color of individual header's columns
  • Color of tooltip's window text and bk
  • Color of the text and bk of a cell that has tooltip
  • Color of list grid, and even its width
  • Color of row when it's selected
  • Make list sortable

In Dialog

To create the control in a Dialog, you can manually do it with the Create method.

But most of the times, you prefer to place a standard List Control onto the Dialog's template, by dragging it from the Toolbox within Visual Studio.

To use the latter approach, follow these steps:

  1. Put standard List Control from the toolbox onto your dialog template. Give it appropriate ID (IDC_LISTEX) and make it desirable size.
  2. Declare IListExPtr member varable within your dialog class: IListExPtr m_myList { CreateListEx() };
  3. In your OnInitDialog method, call m_myList->CreateDialogCtrl(IDC_LISTEX, this); function.


To set a tooltip for a given cell, just write:

myList->SetCellTooltip(0, 1, L"Tooltip text", L"Tooltip caption:");

This will set a tooltip for cell (0, 1) with the text: Tooltip text, and the caption Tooltip caption.

IListEx class possesses innate ability to set popup menu for individual cells, as well as for the whole list.

Image 2

This is achieved with the help of two public methods:

SetListMenu(CMenu* pMenu);
SetCellMenu(int iItem, int iSubitem, CMenu* pMenu);

With the code below, we are going to set two separate menus:

  • For the whole list - CMenu m_menuList;
  • For the individual cell - CMenu m_menuCell;
#include "ListEx/ListEx.h"

using namespace LISTEX;

constexpr auto IDC_LIST_MENU_CELL_FIRST = 0x1;
constexpr auto IDC_LIST_MENU_CELL_SECOND = 0x2;
constexpr auto IDC_LIST_MENU_GLOBAL_FIRST = 0x3;
constexpr auto IDC_LIST_MENU_GLOBAL_SECOND = 0x4;

class CMyDlg : public CDialogEx
  CMenu m_menuCell;
  CMenu m_menuList;
  IListExPtr m_myList { CreateListEx() };

  m_myList->InsertColumn(0, L"First column", 0, 100);

  m_menuCell.AppendMenuW(MF_STRING, IDC_LIST_MENU_CELL_FIRST, L"Cell's first menu...");
  m_menuCell.AppendMenuW(MF_STRING, IDC_LIST_MENU_CELL_SECOND, L"Cell's second menu...");

  m_menuList.AppendMenuW(MF_STRING, IDC_LIST_MENU_GLOBAL_FIRST, L"List's first menu...");
  m_menuList.AppendMenuW(MF_STRING, IDC_LIST_MENU_GLOBAL_SECOND, L"List's second menu...");

  m_myList->SetCellMenu(1, 0, &m_menuCell); //Set menu for row:1 column:0.

Handle Menu Clicks

When user clicks a menu, IListEx sends WM_NOTIFY message with NMITEMACTIVATE struct pointer as lParam, to its parent window. So, in order to properly handle clicks, you have to process this message in your list's parent window:

BOOL CMyDialog::OnNotify(WPARAM wParam, LPARAM lParam, LRESULT* pResult)
    const LPNMITEMACTIVATE pNMI = reinterpret_cast<LPNMITEMACTIVATE>(lParam);

    if (pNMI->hdr.idFrom == IDC_LISTEX)
    	if (pNMI->hdr.code == LISTEX_MSG_MENUSELECTED)
            CString ss;
            switch (pNMI->lParam)
            case IDC_LIST_MENU_CELL_FIRST:
            ss.Format(L"Cell's first menu clicked. Row: %i, Column: %i", 
                      pNMI->iItem, pNMI->iSubItem);
            case IDC_LIST_MENU_CELL_SECOND:
                ss.Format(L"Cell's second menu clicked. Row: %i, Column: %i", 
                          pNMI->iItem, pNMI->iSubItem);
            case IDC_LIST_MENU_GLOBAL_FIRST:
                ss.Format(L"List's first menu clicked. Row: %i, Column: %i", 
                          pNMI->iItem, pNMI->iSubItem);
                ss.Format(L"List's second menu clicked. Row: %i, Column: %i", 
                          pNMI->iItem, pNMI->iSubItem);
    return CDialogEx::OnNotify(wParam, lParam, pResult);

IListEx fills NMITEMACTIVATE struct with NMITEMACTIVATE::hdr.code equals LISTEX_MSG_MENUSELECTED. And menuId is stored as NMITEMACTIVATE::lParam.

NMITEMACTIVATE::iItem and NMITEMACTIVATE::iSubItem both point to a cell the menu was clicked on.


To enable sorting, set the LISTEXCREATESTRUCT::fSortable flag to true. In this case, when you click on the header, list will be sorted according to the clicked column. By default, IListEx performs lexicographical sorting.

To set your own sorting routine, use SetSortable method.

Virtual Mode

In virtual list mode, if created with LVS_OWNERDATA style, IListEx will notify, in the form of WM_NOTIFY message, parent window with NMHDR::code equal to LVN_COLUMNCLICK when user clicked header column.

LVM_MAPINDEXTOID message code will be sent to notify parent window that IListEx::MapIndexToID method was called internally. Parent window in this case is responsible for providing unique IDs for list items. This is very important for cells individual colors, tool-tips, menu and custom data to work properly in virtual mode.
Unique ID must be returned in the form of LPNMITEMACTIVATE::lParam.

BOOL CMyDlg::OnNotify(WPARAM wParam, LPARAM lParam, LRESULT * pResult)
    const LPNMITEMACTIVATE pNMI = reinterpret_cast<LPNMITEMACTIVATE>(lParam);

    if (pNMI->hdr.idFrom == IDC_LISTEX)
    	switch (pNMI->hdr.code)
    		pNMI->lParam = //Unique ID of the pNMI->iItem.

Public Methods

IListEx class also has a set of additional public methods to help customize your control in many different aspects.

virtual bool Create(const LISTEXCREATESTRUCT& lcs) = 0;
virtual void CreateDialogCtrl(UINT uCtrlID, CWnd* pwndDlg) = 0;
virtual BOOL DeleteAllItems() = 0;
virtual BOOL DeleteColumn(int nCol) = 0;
virtual BOOL DeleteItem(int nItem) = 0;
virtual void Destroy() = 0;
[[nodiscard]] virtual ULONGLONG GetCellData(int iItem, int iSubitem)const = 0;
[[nodiscard]] virtual EListExSortMode GetColumnSortMode(int iColumn)const = 0;
[[nodiscard]] virtual UINT GetFontSize()const = 0;
[[nodiscard]] virtual int GetSortColumn()const = 0;
[[nodiscard]] virtual bool GetSortAscending()const = 0;
[[nodiscard]] virtual bool IsCreated()const = 0;
virtual void SetCellColor
             (int iItem, int iSubitem, COLORREF clrBk, COLORREF clrText = -1) = 0;
virtual void SetCellData(int iItem, int iSubitem, ULONGLONG ullData) = 0;
virtual void SetCellMenu(int iItem, int iSubitem, CMenu* pMenu) = 0;
virtual void SetCellTooltip(int iItem, int iSubitem, 
             std::wstring_view wstrTooltip, std::wstring_view wstrCaption = L"") = 0;
virtual void SetColor(const LISTEXCOLORS& lcs) = 0;
virtual void SetColumnColor(int iColumn, COLORREF clrBk, COLORREF clrText = -1) = 0;
virtual void SetColumnSortMode(int iColumn, EListExSortMode enSortMode) = 0;
virtual void SetFont(const LOGFONTW* pLogFontNew) = 0;
virtual void SetFontSize(UINT uiSize) = 0;
virtual void SetHdrHeight(DWORD dwHeight) = 0;
virtual void SetHdrFont(const LOGFONTW* pLogFontNew) = 0;
virtual void SetHdrColumnColor(int iColumn, COLORREF clrBk, COLORREF clrText = -1) = 0;
virtual void SetListMenu(CMenu* pMenu) = 0;
virtual void SetRowColor(DWORD dwRow, COLORREF clrBk, COLORREF clrText = -1) = 0;
virtual void SetSortable(bool fSortable, PFNLVCOMPARE pfnCompare = nullptr,
			EListExSortMode enSortMode = EListExSortMode::SORT_LEX) = 0;


void SetSortable(bool fSortable, PFNLVCOMPARE pfnCompare = nullptr, 
                 EListExSortMode enSortMode = EListExSortMode::SORT_LEX)


  • bool fSortable

    Enables or disables sorting

  • PFNLVCOMPARE pfnCompare

    Callback function pointer with type int (CALLBACK *PFNLVCOMPARE)(LPARAM lParam1, LPARAM lParam2, LPARAM lParamSort) that is used to set your own comparison function. If it's nullptr IListEx performs default sorting. The comparison function must be either a static member of a class or a stand-alone function that is not a member of any class. For more information, see the official MSDN documentation.

  • EListExSortMode enSortMode

    Default sorting mode for the list.



    LISTEXCOLORS      stColor { };           //All control's colors.
    CRect             rect;                  //Initial rect.
    CWnd*             pwndParent { };        //Parent window.
    const LOGFONTW*   pListLogFont { };      //List font.
    const LOGFONTW*   pHdrLogFont { };       //Header font.
    DWORD             dwStyle { };           //Control's styles. Zero for default.
    UINT              uID { };               //Control Id.
    DWORD             dwListGridWidth { 1 }; //Width of the list grid.
    DWORD             dwHdrHeight { 20 };    //Header height.
    bool              fSortable { false };   //Is list sortable, 
                                             //by clicking on the header column?
    bool              fDialogCtrl { false }; //If it's a list within dialog.


    COLORREF clrListText { GetSysColor(COLOR_WINDOWTEXT) };            //List text color.
    COLORREF clrListBkRow1 { GetSysColor(COLOR_WINDOW) };              //List Bk color of 
                                                                       //the odd rows.
    COLORREF clrListBkRow2 { GetSysColor(COLOR_WINDOW) };              //List Bk color of 
                                                                       //the even rows.
    COLORREF clrListGrid { RGB(220, 220, 220) };                       //List grid color.
    COLORREF clrListTextSelected { GetSysColor(COLOR_HIGHLIGHTTEXT) }; //Selected item 
                                                                       //text color.
    COLORREF clrListBkSelected { GetSysColor(COLOR_HIGHLIGHT) };       //Selected item bk color.
    COLORREF clrTooltipText { GetSysColor(COLOR_INFOTEXT) };           //Tooltip window 
                                                                       //text color.
    COLORREF clrTooltipBk { GetSysColor(COLOR_INFOBK) };               //Tooltip window 
                                                                       //bk color.
    COLORREF clrListTextCellTt { GetSysColor(COLOR_WINDOWTEXT) };      //Text color of a 
                                                                       //cell that has tooltip.
    COLORREF clrListBkCellTt { RGB(170, 170, 230) };                   //Bk color of a cell 
                                                                       //that has tooltip.
    COLORREF clrHdrText { GetSysColor(COLOR_WINDOWTEXT) };             //List header text color.
    COLORREF clrHdrBk { GetSysColor(COLOR_WINDOW) };                   //List header bk color.
    COLORREF clrHdrHglInactive { GetSysColor(COLOR_GRADIENTINACTIVECAPTION) };//Header highlight
    COLORREF clrHdrHglActive { GetSysColor(COLOR_GRADIENTACTIVECAPTION) };    //Header 
                                                                       // highlight active.
    COLORREF clrBkNWA { GetSysColor(COLOR_WINDOW) };                   //Bk of non working area.

This struct is also used in SetColor method.


	COLORREF clrBk { };
	COLORREF clrText { };

Used as a response to LISTEX_MSG_CELLCOLOR message.


Enum showing sorting type for list columns.

enum class EListExSortMode : short

Notification Messages

These messages are sent to the parent window in the form of WM_NOTIFY windows message.
The lParam will contain a pointer to NMHDR standard windows struct. NMHDR::code can be one of the LISTEX_MSG_... messages described below.


User defined menu selected. See menu section.


Sent to the parent to retrieve current cell color. You can set cells' colors whether handling this message or using SetCellColor member function.
This message has higher priority over SetCellColor method.


Let’s imagine that you need a list control with a non standard header height, and yellow background color. Nothing is simpler, see code below:

lcs.rect = CRect(0, 0, 500, 300)
lcs.pwndParent = this;
lcs.dwHdrHeight = 50;
lcs.stColor.clrListBkRow1 = RGB(255, 255, 0);
lcs.stColor.clrListBkRow2 = RGB(255, 255, 0);



Here, we set both - even and odd rows (clrListBkRow1 and clrListBkRow2) to the same yellow color.


With the Ctrl+MouseWheel combination, you can dynamically change list's font size.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The MIT License


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Comments and Discussions

QuestionCan not work on a Dialog Pin
suhm7723-Dec-18 20:49
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AnswerRe: Can not work on a Dialog Pin
Jovibor23-Dec-18 23:47
MemberJovibor23-Dec-18 23:47 
GeneralRe: Can not work on a Dialog Pin
suhm7724-Dec-18 3:41
Membersuhm7724-Dec-18 3:41 
GeneralRe: Can not work on a Dialog Pin
Jovibor24-Dec-18 12:00
MemberJovibor24-Dec-18 12:00 
GeneralRe: Can not work on a Dialog Pin
suhm7724-Dec-18 21:00
Membersuhm7724-Dec-18 21:00 
QuestionSome Enhancements Pin
Rick York19-Dec-18 6:55
mveRick York19-Dec-18 6:55 
AnswerRe: Some Enhancements Pin
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GeneralRe: Some Enhancements Pin
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mveRick York19-Dec-18 12:15 
GeneralRe: Some Enhancements Pin
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SuggestionFeature Suggestion Pin
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GeneralRe: Feature Suggestion Pin
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GeneralRe: Feature Suggestion Pin
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